Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 03/03/08 at 07:29 PM ET
The NHL provided a media conference call with Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin today. To interpret for Evgeni, Sergei Gonchar joined in on the call.
Earlier today, Evgeni was named First Star for the month of February after leading the league in scoring with 9 goals and 17 assists for 26 points in 14 games. He currently sits first in overall NHL scoring with 88 points on 37 goals and 51 assists. The Penguins are tied atop the Eastern Conference standings with Montréal, each with 81 points.
Q. Evgeni, can you tell me if you’re seeing different players checking you than before when Sidney Crosby was playing in terms of like different defensemen against you and different centers playing against you?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) Evgeni said he definitely notices the difference with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup because now he’s playing against guys like Zdeno Chara and other top defensemen as well as people like John Madden and other top defensive forwards.
Q. Can you ask Evgeni about his year with Dave King during his year in Russia. How much help was it to have an NHL?style coach in making the transition to the NHL?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He said it help him a lot because he explaining to him a lot how it’s going to be in NHL. He give him a lot of ice time. He trust him a lot. He also like give him a lot of advice during the games.
Q. Does he stay in touch with Mr. King?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) Yeah, he’s saying during the year King help him a lot. Obviously that year with him together was very helpful. He spend a lot of time with him. He was explaining him how it’s going to be in NHL.
During the games he’s spending a lot of time with him explaining the way he should play, the way it’s gonna be in NHL. So he very grateful to have a chance to play for him for a year. Now they’re not staying in touch.
Q. Evgeni, why do you think you seem to be connecting really well with Ryan Malone and Malone’s play in recent weeks? Why do you think you go good together?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He think that it’s probably working well for them because they passing puck to each other. So they are helping each other. So if one of them is joining the rush, the other guy is staying back.
Plus he’s a big presence in front of the net. You know, Ryan is going to the net a lot. And, obviously, Evgeni is a good passer, so he can pass him the puck.
Q. Do you get any motivation with how many points Ovechkin has as sort of a target to aim for?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying for him the most important thing is team result. It’s not a motivation for me. Ovechkin is not a motivation for me. I just try to improve my game, try to be better than I was last year. I’m trying to make sure our team is making playoffs.
Q. Questions about adjusting to life off the ice in North America. Sergei, is Evgeni still living at your house?
SERGEI GONCHAR: Yes.
Q. I was on YouTube and saw that television commercial you shot. Did you enjoy that? Did he enjoy that? Is that something that is new to him? I’m assuming there were no commercial opportunities in Magnitogorsk.
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying that he’s feeling better this year compared with last year. Was much tougher for him last year. You know, he’s feeling much more comfortable now.
He’s saying thanks to my teammates and the people around Pittsburgh because I can see how ?? I mean, how hockey is for them and how it’s very important for all of them. Because of it, they making it easy for us. You know, they helping us a lot everywhere in Pittsburgh.
And second part of the question was about the commercial. He’s saying that, you know, NHL does a lot of promotions, different kind of promotions. We’ve done one of them. It’s something I never experienced before. He’s saying it was a different experience. So it’s one of the, you know, things maybe gonna help him to start doing those things a little bit more.
Q. Sergei, do you notice his English improving? A lot of people are saying he understands more than he can speak. Is that fair to say?
EVGENI MALKIN: (In English.) Yes (laughter).
Q. Evgeni, playing center, has it added a comfort level to your game because you’re back to your more natural position?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying I was playing center all my life pretty much. Actually first time he was playing on the wing, when he started playing on the wing, was with Sidney. So it was a first?time experience. Obviously now when they put him back in that position, it’s more natural for him. It’s more comfortable for him. And he’s feeling better playing in the middle.
Q. Evgeni was one of the last players able to leave Russia under the old Russian labor law. Now that the new labor law has been passed and signed, it’s hard to get out of a contract. Do either of you think you’ll see fewer Russian players come over because of that?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) Evgeni is saying we’re probably ?? obviously for every young child everywhere ? in Russia, too ? it’s a dream to play in NHL. Nowadays when they going to have that labor in place, guys probably gonna play, you know, through the first contract and then going to go.
So what he’s saying, it’s still for the young kids, NHL is a dream. We’re gonna see the players.
SERGEI GONCHAR: I might add, probably it’s not going to be as much because when you’re older, when you play through your first contract, it’s tough for you to change your lifestyle and go over there. So we’re probably going to see fewer guys.
But, you know, Evgeni is right. NHL is still a dream for the guys. I’m sure they gonna come and play here.
Q. Last few games you’ve been playing extremely well. You’ve had a lot of ice time. You’ve been playing a lot. Last season you kind of petered out towards the end of the season. Your ice time was down, production was down. Is your conditioning that much better this season that you can pick it up for the stretch run and how do you avoid burnout like you did last season?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying the last year, if you remember, you know, he was escaping the country. It was a tough situation for him. You know, he was dealing with a lot of things at that time. Obviously because of it, his pre?season and his conditioning wasn’t probably at his best. It’s probably why towards the end he wasn’t playing as well.
This year he had a much better not only camp but summer workout. He knew what to expect. He knew what is waiting for him. That’s why he’s much better, much stronger now. He’s much better prepared for playoffs.
Q. Is much of an influence that you had on him, his conditioning, things like that?
SERGEI GONCHAR: You know, we work out together. Obviously he has the advantage because I’ve been working with a conditioning guy for a couple years now. We build a program, you know, especially for NHL, especially in Pittsburgh the way we playing, skating and stuff. So our summer program is kind of hitting that style.
Evgeni just kind of jumped onboard. It’s kind of easy for him because he had a luxury, you know, just go there and pretty much everything was ready for him. Whole summer program was designed kind of, you know, for him to get ready, especially for the style, for Pittsburgh style, the way we’re playing and skating. So it’s one of the reasons he’s playing and feeling better.
Q. Sergei, when Sidney went down, a lot of people were predicting that your team would take a big fall back. Were you pretty confident, because you knew you had Malkin there? What do you think of Malkin’s play since Sidney went down with the injury?
SERGEI GONCHAR: When Sidney went down, obviously it was tough for us because he’s one of the best players in the world. You know, you’re not going to easily replace him.
At the same time I knew Evgeni was ready for it. I play with him even before the last year in Russia during lockout. I can see what he was able to do at that time, you know, when his comfort level was high. I remember how good he was playing, what he’s capable of.
So I knew anyway when Sidney was out, I knew Evgeni is going to have more ice time obviously. Because of it, he’s going to be more comfortable. That’s why it’s not a surprise to me the way he’s playing right now.
Q. Evgeni, are you looking forward to playing Ovechkin on Sunday? They had a pretty good matchup the last time they played.
SERGEI GONCHAR: You’re talking about Washington, right?
Q. Washington, yes.
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying I’m not really thinking yet about that game in Washington because we have two more games before that. We’re playing a couple games, Tampa and Florida.
He’s saying I’m sure it’s going to be exciting game. We had a great game in Pittsburgh; I’m sure it’s going to be another good one in Washington.
Q. Sergei, just because Evgeni is rather new in the league and maybe personally because of the language barrier, he’s something of a silent superstar to the larger hockey world. Can you tell me what kind of personality he has with people like you and your other teammates who he trusts and knows well.
SERGEI GONCHAR: He’s a fun guy to be around. You know, he doesn’t talk much probably. At the same time he makes the short jokes and smiles a lot. He lives in my house. I can say he’s quiet around the house, spends a lot of time on Internet reading newspapers and chatting with his buddies back home, helping around the house, playing with my kids. So he’s a good housemate.
Q. Sounds like a good roommate then.
SERGEI GONCHAR: Yeah, he’s a good housemate, yeah.
Q. Also if you could ask Evgeni, obviously at the moment he’s leading the NHL scoring. Is that something that surprises him so soon in his career?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying always as a kid he was trying to, you know, be the best. This year I’m playing good hockey. He said it’s early, but he’s saying I’m not trying to think about it if it’s early or not. I’m just trying to be my best, go out there and do whatever I can to be the best. Thanks God everything is going my way. Hopefully it continues.
Q. Do you think he can win the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the league? If he does, will you be on the stage with him interpreting?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying that I’ll do my best to make sure, you know, our team is winning and we’re making the playoffs. So I will do my best to play as good as I can.
You know, if I gonna win it, I’m going there without Sergei.
Q. Sergei, you’ve been around the league a long time. Do you think he is a possible Hart Trophy candidate?
SERGEI GONCHAR: Yeah, he has a potential. I mean, if you look at him, the way he’s playing, he’s not only playing well by himself and scoring those points, making those points, but he’s making people around him better. He’s leading the team.
So he’s playing and working hard. Definitely has a chance. I don’t know if it’s going to be this year or next year, but I’m sure in some point of his career, he’ll be very close to it or might win it.
Q. Evgeni, how much of an influence has defenseman Gonchar been for you personally on and off the ice?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying he has a lot of experience, so he’s helping me on the ice and off the ice with the little things. So I guess I’m lucky that I’m playing with him, with such an old guy (laughter).
Q. What did it mean for you after leaving Russia to have the Gonchar family take you in a year and a half ago?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying he was surprised in the beginning. He didn’t expect it’s gonna happen. He’s saying that he’s thankful for that. He’s saying that he’s probably not going to be playing as he’s playing right now if he wouldn’t have that help.
Q. Did you follow Sergei’s career prior to joining the Penguins? Did you see what he was doing throughout the course of his career?
EVGENI MALKIN: (Through translation.) He’s saying, no, he never follow me before. But when he was drafted by Pittsburgh, he start following Pittsburgh and me, Sergei, obviously because I was playing for them. Plus when we play like on international tournaments, he look the way I was playing. So pretty much he start following, you know, the way I’m playing since he got drafted by Pittsburgh and he knew that I’m playing for Pittsburgh.
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